Don't Let Governance Impede Collaboration

In today's workplace, online chatrooms are the new watercooler. The conference room has been brought online, and it has never been easier for employees to connect with colleagues, share data, and process information. But with such easy virtual access, how much governance should exist behind information sharing in virtual enterprise communities? How can businesses ensure that online collaboration is both positive and successful?

Less Restriction = More Engagement

When using a collaboration platform, employees don't want to feel like Big Brother is watching and scrutinizing their every move. Overly governing channels will inhibit adoption, reduce participation, lower platform engagement, and lead to employee resentment, not business success, as we heard from several customers that shared their lessons learned following heavy-handed approaches to governance. At these companies, employees who had to ask for permission to participate in communities complained that the experience felt like being mired in virtual red tape rather than an opportunity for free-flowing collaboration.

Business leaders who think they have the power to dictate what their employees say and when they say it are unrealistic. Instead of heavy restriction, management should focus on the positive attributes of the technology as an avenue for employees to embrace discussions and build morale. For instance, don't restrict employees from chatting about a timely sports event or a local concert online. Allow for these "watercooler conversations" -- as long as they remain within legal policies and don't overtake productive work. Human interaction shouldn't be prevented, but rather encouraged in positive, constructive ways. As a result, nervousness to adopt platforms will fade and employees will appreciate their collaborative workplace culture.

Following the reactions from their employees, the customers I mentioned above decided to relax some of their policies and instead provide guidelines rather than hard participation barriers. This transition led to exponential growth in participation. More participation meant more employees shared content, knowledge, and ideas, which in turn incentivized others to consume content, ask questions, or share their own expertise.

At the end of the day, content is king and without it, communities and collaboration tools have limited value. If you don't provide employees with the right outlets to create and connect with content, your online platform will fail. Providing a less-restrictive approach will keep the ideas and business growing.

Tool Transparency

When encouraging engagement, employers must make employees aware of the fundamental business reasons surrounding platform rollouts. Management must spend time communicating appropriate usage of new tools, from chat platforms to online document repositories. Management must:

  • Send a clear message -- In explaining what knowledge sharing should be happening on collaboration platforms, management can instill processes for optimal communication efficiency
  • Ask for feedback -- Garner employee insight on whether tools are assisting in their daily tasks
  • Share content -- Distribute work-related content across platforms for easy employee review
  • Internal marketing -- Showcase success stories of tools driving business results

The 3 Ps: Put Policies in Place

For engagement to be successful, policy implementation is key across both verbal and digital communication in the enterprise. With employees working remotely, managers often worry about whether their teams are wasting time throughout the workday. Leaders must put a formal communication policy in place for employee reference. With this, a company won't need to bombard employee teams with constant reminders of workplace best practices. In working with our customers, we have seen the benefits of setting communication policies and guidelines up front. This sets a level of common understanding, helping employees feel confident in engaging with these digital tools because expectations have already been set.

When developing workplace processes, be careful not to fall into a situation in which you're hindering knowledge sharing. Putting too many restrictions in place will impede employees from interacting from the start. This will counteract engagement efforts, preventing employees from experiencing key growth and development opportunities through peer-to-peer teamwork.